Southeastern College Art Conference

I presented a paper titled “An Autoimmune Aesthetic” in the panel “Visualizing Disability” chaired by Ann Millett-Gallant from UNC – Greensboro at the Southeastern College Art Conference (SECAC) at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) a couple weeks ago. Ann wrote a book called The Disabled Body in Contemporary Art that I’m really looking forward to checking out. I’m hoping to continue my work on that paper, so I’m not going to post it just yet…

However, I am going to post some links to other projects I found interesting. I went to a panel called “Stoking Hephaestus’ Fire: Linking Art and Science” and saw some interesting art projects presented.

The artist Matt Kenyon’s talk “Techno-Activism and Inverse Biotelemetry” showed projects from his collaborative work with Douglas Easterly “SWAMP“: Studies of Work Atmosphere and Mass Production. One work that I particularly liked was the improvised empathetic device (i.e.d.). This device worn around the arm, tracks the deaths of US soldiers in the Middle East, oftentimes because of improvised explosive devices, I.E.Ds. The device delivers a prick to the wearer when data is updated. (This project reminded me of Wafaa Bilal’s performance piece titled … and Counting where he had the dead tattooed on his back from the war in Afghanistan. However, in Bilal’s piece, he draws awareness to our lack of attention to the deaths of Afghani civilians; he tracks their losses as well as the US’s.)

The next talk in the panel, “Ut Pictura Scientia: The Studio Lab” given by Shona Macdonald, had many projects! I’m just going to list them here:

Katy Schimert, A Woman’s Brain (1995): investigates differences in the brain based on the separate sexes

Marilene Oliver, I know you inside out (2001): a reconstruction of the convicted murderer who was convinced to donate his body to science, becoming the basis of the Visible Human Project.

Margaret Wertheim and Christine Wertheim, The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef: “a woolly celebration of the intersection of higher geometry and feminine handicraft, and a testimony to the disappearing wonders of the marine world.” The project interestingly also involves an appropriation of mathematics in making the crocheted forms.

The next talk was “Leveraging Public Experience in a  Scientistic Approach to the Arts” by Wayne Madsen. He presented his own works, and the one I was most interested in was wiki_panopticon which engages with deleted data that is stored from entries in wikipedia: Art, Artificial Intelligence, Ideology, Justice, Anarchism, Truth, Consciousness, and Tradition.

The last talk was “Printmaking on a Micro Scale: An Art and Science Collaboration” by Al Denyer and Erik Brunvand. This project involved a new technique of printmaking on silicon chips. These are super tiny! Only 300-500 microns large! We’re talking millimeters big. They use integrated circuit manufacturing to make the prints, and it is basically a process of layering metals to create the image.

I thought it was interesting that the approaches to science and technology were so different between the projects. Many of the projects were much more political in their themes whether it be about war and the loss of life, communication and the way data is saved and surveilled, disciplined bodies and biomedicine’s interventions, or environmental disasters. I’m not so sure about the politics of the printmaking on silicon wafers still though; it seems like a more straightforward aesthetic and material enterprise. However I can see a critique of its being problematic in terms of classism (?) – who would be able to own these? What are the conditions of production that make that project possible?

These projects all seem to point to ways that science and technology can both be used and examined in artistic practices. Can we use technology and science in a way that is self-reflexive of its conditions while also talking about something else? Must the artist always need to be aware of the conditions of the material, the technology?

The Sound of Cosmopolitics

I’m still trying to unpack everything that is Isabelle Stengers’ Cosmopolitics I, Part I: The Science Wars, so this post is going to be brief with a few links.

A friend posted a TED Talk with artist Honor Harger titled “A History of the Universe in Sound.” She describes a bit of history about radio waves from outer space and how they have been picked up by scientists and others here on Earth. During the talk, she plays sounds recorded from the Sun, Jupiter, and the leftover cosmic rays from the big bang. An interesting history to think about in light of Stengers’ arguments about the existence of phenomenon and our relationship to their “discovery”; do we have “the power to talk about the world independently of the relationships of knowledge that humans create”? (Stengers 8)

Honor Harger’s collaborative project with Adam Hyde r a d i o q u a l i a, is an exploration of sound, radio, and other media in artistic practices. Their ongoing project Radio Astronomy allows listeners to hear outer space by using

radio technology to convert data collected by radio telescopes into sound. It then broadcasts this astronomical audio over the internet and on FM radio. Created in collaboration with astronomers, engineers, and radio stations worldwide, the project enables listeners to tune into different celestial frequencies, hearing planets, stars, and the constant hiss of cosmic noise. It aims to reveal the sonic character of objects in our Universe, and in the process make these phenomena more tangible and comprehensible” (radioqualia.net).

Even though Stengers isn’t necessarily talking about outer space in Cosmopolitics, I like the idea of listening to the bodies in space while reading her.

Ecology of Practices: Santiago Sierra

Santiago Sierra’s work is controversial, obviously so I would say. His projects include paying prostitutes to  tattoo a red line across their backs for money for heroine (160 cm Line Tattooed on Four People, 2000), paying unemployed works to sit in cardboard boxes for four hours a day for six days (Workers Who Cannot Be Paid, Remunerated to Remain Inside Cardboard Boxes, 2000), and hiring workers to act as buttresses to hold up a wall for five days (The Wall of a Gallery Pulled Out, Inclined Sixty Degrees From the Ground and Sustained by Five People, 2000). Claire Bishop, whom I wrote about last week, counters her criticisms of relational art with Sierra’s confrontational work.

Bishop claims that the relationships set up by Sierra don’t collapse into the work and are not meant for a sense of belonging like Rirkrit Tiravanija’s and Liam Gillick’s whom she criticizes: “The relations produced by their [Thomas Hirschhorn and Santiago Sierra] performances and installations are marked by sensations of unease and discomfort rather than belonging, because the work acknowledges the impossibility of a ‘microutopia’ and instead sustains a tension among viewers, participants, and context” (Bishop 70).

Santiago Sierra, 160 cm Line Tattooed On Four People, 2000 (image found at http://bombsite.com)

While reading Isabelle Stengers “Introductory Notes on an Ecology of Practices,” I thought of Sierra’s work. She begins by describing the stakes for physics: either it defends itself as keepers of the knowledge of reality or it must suffer as just another social practice. To deal with this issue of science’s truth claims, Stenger develops the notion of an ecology of practices which is defined as a non-neutral tool for “thinking through what is happening” (Stengers 185).

Stengers talks about our attachments, our obligations, and our responsibilities; attachments to her are “what cause people… to feel and to think, to be able or to become able” (191). It is our mistake when we take these attachments as “universal obligations” and feel “free to go anywhere, to enter any practical territory, to judge, deconstruct or disqualify” (191). What can this mean for Sierra’s work? Work that judges without judging, disqualifies without actually disqualifying? Sierra brings the prostitutes and unemployed workers into the gallery where they become both performers but also objects of art. Their previous societal disqualification makes them fodder for Sierra and they are transformed into highly expensive works of art, though after their time of occupation, what has changed about their original disqualification? How do we see these people now? What is our (the audience’s) responsibility to the people who for a period of time became art? Bishop says that “Sierra knows there is no such thing as a  free meal: everything and everyone has a price” (70). Is Sierra simply a “nomad” pointing out the problems and exploitations of the world while still participating in them?

Santiago Sierra, Eight People Paid To Remain Inside Cardboard Boxes, 1999 (image found at http://www.medienkunstnetz.de)

What does it mean that Bishop claims Tiravanija is working in a “major key” and Sierra is in a “minor”? (71) Is this at all akin to Stengers’ insistence on working in a minor key that “avoid[s] the center stage”? Like Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s work on minor literature, a literature that works from the inside through  the dominant language? Sierra in these works is using the dominant language of gallery, gallery patron, artist, art object, but the question of his complicity within this dominant language has been raised. According to Stengers, “there is no practice independent of its environment” (187). To this, Sierra responds that he doesn’t “believe in the possibility of change” (Sierra 2002, 15 quoted in Bishop, 71). But what kind of change is he talking about here? A change in the politics of labor exploitation, or a change in the mechanics of art? Or are the possibilities for change wrapped in both?

How are Sierra’s practices, art practices, implicated in Stengers’ notion of the ecology of practices that does not “describe practices ‘as they are'” but rather “aims at the construction of new ‘practical identities’ for practices, that is, new possibilities for them to be present, or in other words to connect;” “as they may become”? (186) How can Sierra’s work be in a process of becoming? To view Sierra’s work as just another instance of exploitation is to, I think, dismiss another side of the work – some sort of nuanced truth claim, but not Truth. Stengers mentions philosopher Leibniz’s take on Truth: to “not appeal to the strong drug of Truth, or the power to denounce or judge, to deconstruct and criticize” (187). The very notion of the critique while participating in the practice being critiqued seems to throw a wrench into the smooth machine of criticism. Do these works empower in Stengers’ sense of the word or mobilize? What about the witch’s ritual she describes and its effect that is “not becoming aware of something which others already knew, of understanding some truth beyond illusions – her effect is enacting the relation between belonging and and becoming, producing belonging as experimentation while it is always in danger of being some kind of psychological habit”? (195)

Relational Quantum Physics/Aesthetics

During my reading of the rest of Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, I began to think about relational art as a potential model for what Barad’s world would look like if enacted. Barad repeats, almost as a mantra, that matter is an entanglement of discursive and material practices. That matter and meaning intra-act; each is not established before their interaction; they are created through the interaction with the other. This formulation seems to be a heady mixture ready for relational art practices where the goal is not to create a singular piece of art by an artist, but rather to “establish intersubjective encounters in which meaning is elaborated collectively (Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, 18 quoted in Claire Bishop, “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics,” 54). However, it is hard to say whether relational art practices can exemplify Barad’s take on reality and the creation of knowledge.

If we look at relational art as the apparatus, we can begin to see its benefits and faults in terms of Barad’s onto-epistemology. “Rather than a discrete, portable, autonomous work of art that transcends its context, relational art is entirely beholden to the contingencies of its environment and audience” (Bishop, 54). Though, the key difference here between relational art and quantum physics may be the issue of objectivity. In the model that Barad puts forward following quantum physics, even though the “nature of the observed phenomenon changes with corresponding changes in the apparatus,” (Barad, 106) objectivity is still possible. It is the recognition that “we are part of the nature that we seek to understand” that is required (Barad, 67). Relational art also recognizes this – we are the part of the art that we seek to understand – though, through a reading of the works, the divide between artist and viewer is reified. At first glance it may seem that relational art is able to transcend the object/observer positions that Bohr and Barad claim to be false (the “two” are actually inseparable), I don’t think many, if not all, of these artworks accomplish this task of breaking down the boundaries between the art object and audience.

(image found at http://www.zoilus.com/rirkritTiravanija.jpg)

Claire Bishop in her article “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics” discusses a few of artist Rirkrit Tiravanija’s exhibitions including Untitled (Still) where the artist cooked curry and pad thai for exhibition-goers, Untitled (Tomorrow Is Another Day), the artist reconstructed his apartment and invited the audience to use it, and Pad Thai, a room full of instruments the audience could enter into to make music. I have to say that personally I enjoy some of these projects. I have a tape from the music-session I engaged in when Untitled 1996 (Rehearsal Studio No. 6 Silent Version), a similar incarnation of Pad Thai, was installed for the show Sympathy for the Devil at the MCA; it was an entertaining experience to say the least. It becomes difficult to determine in these works what is the apparatus or where the apparatus ends – the apparatus being the tool with which we measure; “apparatuses are not merely observing instruments but boundary-drawing practices – specific material (re)configurings of the world – which comes to matter” (Barad, 140).  We could say, in the case of Untitled (Still) that the curry is part of the apparatus. And all of the other cooking ingredients. And the paper plates and utensils. And all of the furniture moved from the office into the gallery. And the gallery director who is sitting at his desk in the gallery working. And the audience. And Tiravanija. And then it becomes tricky from here. What about his parents? What about the countries he comes from? The audience members’ backgrounds and all that led up to the point of them arriving at the gallery to eat curry? The building itself and the city codes? The PR for the show and the artist’s payment? It becomes obvious from here that either the work becomes either everything or nothing. However, Bohr and Barad make it clear then that the “larger material arrangement enacts a cut that resolves the inherent ontic-semantic indeterminacy through which the ‘subject’ and the ‘object’ emerge” (Barad 143). The gallery-cum-kitchen becomes the non-arbitrary material configuration that creates the cut between “subject” and “object.” This presents a problem for relational art’s goal of breaking the Great Divide between art object and audience; the material configuration of the relational artwork re-creates this same divide.

(Image found at artnet.com)

Another aspect of quantum physics to consider here at this moment is Bohr’s indeterminacy principle: “the values of complementary variables (such as position and momentum) are not simultaneously determinate” (Barad 118). Meaning that “the more precisely the position [of a particle] is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known, and conversely” (Barad 116). What can this mean for viewing/engaging in/making/critiquing relational art? Can we be both the position and momentum in the work? If we are actors in the work, then can we also reflect upon the work? What then becomes of art that is not able to be reflected upon by the participants? Does it now require another cut? The critic or the viewer that was not there? The material configuration of “being there” – an old sentiment derived from New York “happenings” – creates a new divide between the work and the audience.

Bishop makes the claim that “such work [relational artworks] seems to derive from a creative misreading of poststructuralist theory: rather than the interpretations of a work of art being open to continual reassessment, the work of art itself is argued to be in perpetual flux” (Claire Bishop, 52). What are the stakes here? How can we both participate and know? What does it mean for the work itself and not just its readings to be constantly shifting? Barad might argue that of course the work itself is constantly shifting based on new material configurations, but when it comes down to it, I am not sure that she would actually go that far. How can we objectively judge these works? What is our actual place? What/where is our agency? Barad suggests an “agential realist account”:

human subjects are neither outside observers of apparatuses, nor independent subjects that intervene in the workings of an apparatus, not the products of social technologies that produce them. Nor is the issue merely of incorporating both humans and nonhumans into the apparatus of bodily production. The point is as follows: to the extent that concepts, laboratory manipulations, observational interventions, and other human practices have a role to play, it is as part of the larger material configuration of the world (Barad, 171).

How does relational art figure into this definition of reality?

The Quantum Physics of Mark Lombardi

Reading for this week in Feminist Science and Technology Studies: Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning by Karen Barad – Intro thru Chapter 3.

In thinking about a connection between art and quantum physics, it was at first difficult to get beyond art that uses quantum physics as material in making digital images and such. Though this kind of work is interesting in its own right, I wanted to try to think about work that may not at first glance appear to be about quantum physics at all. This led me to Mark Lombardi’s conspiracy-web works.

Mark Lombardi, Bill Clinton, The Lippo Group, and Jackson Stephens of Little Rock, Arkansas (5th Version), 1999 (found at artcritical.com)

Lombardi’s drawings show us webs of players involved in controversial political events and groups – Iran-Contra, World Finance Corporation, United Press International, and others. Each node in these webs connects to other nodes by simple pencil lines or dotted lines, creating a visualization of the networks of power and money that undergird today’s politics. Lombardi calls his drawing’s “narrative structures” because each network he is presenting is meant to “convey a story”  (http://theworkersdreadnought.wordpress.com/2011/05/05/mark-lombardi-artistic-narrative-structures/).

Lombardi’s drawings point towards actor-network theory (or material-semiotic) and also notions of intentionality. Barad writes in Meeting the Universe Halfway that “the very nature of intentionality needs to be rethought” (22) because “intentions are not preexisting determinate mental states of individual human beings” (22-3). Rather, we need to see that “intentionality might better be understood as attributable to a complex network of human and nonhuman agents” (23). This reconfiguration presents us with a quandary in our traditional conceptions of free will and determinism, and thus our notions of agency and ethics. In light of this, how do we/can we look at Lombardi’s drawings?

Conspiracy theories hold fast to traditional notions of agency; someone has power and is exerting it upon others who do not have power. However, it doesn’t necessarily seem this simplistic in Lombardi’s drawings; there is not one particular agent of power that is determining the course; it isn’t always the case that there is one actor from which all the activity stems from. It is clear, though, that each of the nodes/players is a discrete entity that affects others – where would Barad’s notion of “intra-action” be found here? Intra-action being “the mutual constitution of entangled agencies,” separate from interaction that “assumes that there are separate individual agencies that precede their interaction”; “intra-action recognizes that distinct agencies do not precede, but rather emerge through, their intra-action” (33). How can each of these nodes (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, various energy companies and banks, and etc.) contain within themselves “intra-action” and not just interaction amongst them?

This also brings up questions about the artist’s position in the drawings; where is Mark Lombardi in all of this? What are the particular conditions of production and his own web that led to the creation and showing of the drawing? Barad’s notion of “diffraction” and her statement that “practices of knowing are specific material engagements that participate in (re)configuring the world” (91) come into play here. Lombardi’s drawings are the culmination of mountains of research and studies on notecards; he draws from newspaper articles and compiles the “facts” to create the individual nodes and the connections between them. What does it mean for Lombardi the artist to be partaking in this knowledge-making practice? Drawing? Deven Golden writes in an article on Lombardi in artcritical about Lombardi’s choices of materials and what that means for the artworld. What does it mean to draw today and with only pencil on paper? Are the drawings purely representational or do they engage in a new performativity that Barad suggests? For Barad, “performativity” entails a “direct material engagement with the world” instead of representationalism’s belief that our experience with the world is mediated through representations that have an inherent gap built into them (49). Is Lombardi’s drawing practice engaging in Copenhagen physicist Niels Bohr’s indeterminacy, where “the boundary between the ‘object of observation’ and the ‘agencies of observation’ is indeterminate in the absence of a specific physical arrangement of the apparatus,” (114) in this case newspapers, paper, and pencil? It seems that now we can’t take for granted the entities called “George W. Bush,” “Bill Clinton,” “Mark Lombardi,” “pencil,” “paper,” and a whole host of others. How does each intra-act with others and themselves?

Opening this weekend!: Symptoms Variable

I am in a show opening this weekend! The show, Symptoms Variable, opens this Friday (May 6th) at Roxaboxen Exhibitions in Pilsen: 6-9pm, 2130  W 21st Street (near the Damen stop on the pink line).

Description of show:

Eight artists expose and confront the symptoms of social phenomena in a thoroughly interdisciplinary exhibition, combining digital and craft works with graphic design and interaction. Symptoms, a vague term meaning simply “signs of evidence of phenomena,” is used to describe critical situations in medicine, politics, and economics. Variable symptoms occur sporadically, confusing diagnoses and complicating interventions. Symptoms in the exhibition indicate problems of taste, identity, economics, and culture, treatable through three imaginary medications:

AccumulofetishixTM: Manages anxiety associated with advertising immersion and hyperbolic growth. Images and merchandise form an adhesive bond upon contact with computer paint tools, subcultural icons, high school yearbooks to corporate logos.

BodaceptTM: Heals the hard to define space between the self and the other in physical space and psychological experience. Site-specific installations and projections interact with architecture and large jacquard weavings to invade and control the human body in both unusual and everyday experiences.

PlacebexTM: The Placebo category recontextualizes everyday interactions with ambient noise and decoration through interactive pieces using sound, gravel, pottery, and macaroni and cheese.

The artists are members of the 2011 Master of Arts of Visual and Critical Studies class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and will present their thesis research in a symposium on May 12 from 6-9 pm.

Participating artists include: Sara Clugage, Christine Elliot, T. Brandon Evans, Meredith Kooi, Lauren A. Ross, L.C. Parker, Jeremy Shedd, and Dustin Yager.

Artists websites: www.meredithkooi.us, cargocollective.com/laurenaross, and www.ceramicsandtheory.com

Roxaboxen Exhibitions is an artist-run gallery and performance space in the heart of Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. www.roxaboxenminicastle.com

some art to look at today: Mona Hatoum

I am intrigued by Mona Hatoum‘s work – a Palestinian born in Lebanon artist who now lives and works in London and Berlin.  Much of her work is very centered on the body and she has used her own body to create works.  Two that I really love are Corps étranger (1994) and Deep Throat (1996). These installations made use of endoscopy – a medical procedure that uses an endoscope, a camera, to investigate the insides of the body. 

Deep Throat exposes us to the innerworkings of the digestive tract.  Deep Throat’s installation is a clean and proper place setting with the endoscopic video projected on a white plate.

(image found on NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2006/07/07/arts/07inou_CA0.html)

Corps étranger takes us on a journey of the surface and innards of the body. Corps étranger‘s installation is a large, white cylindrical structure that the viewer can enter.  Inside the structure are the video projections.  This installation plays with notions of exteriority and interiority through the video the viewer can watch and also the experience of moving in and out of the installation.  

(image found on blog Contemporary Textile Practice Thoughts: http://ctpthoughts.blogspot.com/)

(image found on the blog Art Icono: http://phomul.canalblog.com/archives/2005/02/22/396249.html)

David Moré: Normal Bias

I went to Green Lantern Gallery this afternoon for the final day of David Moré’s exhibition Normal Bias.  For the exhibition he was offering to make portraits of gallery visitors and passersby.  Though, he was not drawing or painting these portraits, he was making them in sound.

I entered the gallery and he was in there.  I told him that I had come for my portrait sitting.  He told me, like for any other portrait, to sit in a chair that he had placed in the gallery.  He told me that he was going to play for 7 minutes: 3.5 minutes per side of the tape he was recording on to. Then, he pushed record and started to play.

The chair that I was sitting in for my portrait was in a corner of the space and all of his “idiosyncratic and unconventional instruments” (to quote from the exhibition catalogue) surrounded me as an installation.  He first started playing what seemed like a copper wire running along the length of one wall connected to a styrofoam box and some coils with a bow.  It sounded not too unlike what a bow instrument, like a cello, would, but with a different quality.  He then moved to a cymbal placed atop another styrofoam box, but before sitting down, shuffled a spring across the floor that rolled towards me and stopped right at my feet.  He put his keys in the cymbal and started to play it with his bow while manipulating the angle of the cymbal.  The sound started to get really big. The sound, not quite a drone, mesmerized me and I started to drift into another place – but then the tape stopped – side A had filled up.

For side B, he switched to a a dj stand looking set-up that had some electronic equipment.  He started to play and then came out from behind and moved a speaker on the floor out from underneath a slinky hanging from a speaker contraption.  He went back to playing.  The speaker on the floor started to vibrate and something inside it started to dance, jumping with every vibration: it was cinnamon.  I watched the cinnamon fountain up out of the speaker and then recede.  I could smell it becoming stronger.  Then, I closed me eyes and listened.  I was using all senses: I could smell the cinnamon and almost taste it; my body was reverberating with the sound; I was listening fully to the instruments; I could watch Moré perform with the instruments and their movement. Side B then ended and so did my session.  He gave me the tape to take with me.

So much of what I loved about this performance was the fully body experience.  The portrait made for me was an embodied portrait, not a purely visual likeness of me.  I wonder what to do with the tape now.  If I played it for someone who could not see me, would they be able to tell what I looked like?  Would hearing it provide an embodied experience of me, one that is not just optical?